Let me start this post off by saying I don’t wanna be the guy who pisses off the new owners and gets booted from the press box and sits in the cheap seats throwing stones the whole season, claiming "it ain’t like it used to be"…
In fact, I’m kinda glad ‘it ain’t like it used to be’ in many respects, but there’s a balance that must be achieved when a new broom comes into an old establishment, and I like to think I’m impartial enough to be able to make the call when that line has been crossed without everyone getting hysterical about it and donning ‘us’ and ‘them’ jerseys.
But the new Vancouver Canadians, in my opinion, made two rookie errors this past weekend, and I’m going to weigh in on what they were, and how they’re wrong.
First, the less controversial but totally avoidable error. Matt Baker, the C’s multi-season webcaster, had applied to get the gig full-time this season once his old position was posted as a vacancy. Of course, there were new duties attached to the job that made him somewhat less of a certainty than you’d hope, but he put in his application and hoped that, even if he couldn’t get the gig, that there might be a spot somewhere for him to continue polishing his game-calling skills.
Alas, he didn’t get the gig. No biggie, the C’s tapped News1130’s Rob Fai for the role, and you can’t argue that a polished pro like Fai isn’t a good choice, even if sentimentality would lean Baker’s way.
So what’s the error? That Matt had to read about it in the Vancouver Sun.
No call, no email, no hand on the shoulder and box of tissues dropped in front of him. No "this is the hardest decision we’ve had to make." Nothing.
Frankly, a kid that worked for two seasons for free, and paid his own way in several roadtrips, rather than let the C’s webcast go dark, deserves better than that - especially if the C’s are going to present themselves as a now-professional corporate outfit that does things the right way.
But hey, growing pains, right? We’re bound to expect a couple of snafus when so much is going on, and even Matt would admit he was a long way from a sure thing… but man, it had to gut him to read that column.
Sadly, those fans of the old Baker/McGowan play-by-play combo will want to sit down and brace themselves, because the worst is yet to come - the other half of the best webcasting duo in baseball has also bit the dust.
Rob McGowan has been let go by the C’s, and for something that McGowan himself admits was "all my own stupid fault".
Here’s what happened, in Rob’s own unedited words:
Picture if you will the happiest time of year for hawkers, bar Opening Day, the call from new management that they will meet all of us in advance of the hiring fair, to assess who will be invited back. We met Nancy the new director of concessions at the park. In the office, she went over the parameters of what the team wants to do this year - hot roasted peanuts, sausage grill off Third base, sole beer provider - and we are all excited. [She kept apologizing for all these changes; we were like "I’m sorry - where’s the negative?"] So she offers us a tour of the renovations. As she was showing us the beer room, I noticed, among the construction debris and stuff stacked up, a few boxes of old cards. I thought they were going to the garbage, so I grabbed a pack for posterity.
Next day I get a call saying I’m not invited back, and it’s due to the cards.
I tried pleading my case, and got a promise of review. But, in the end, the hard line had to be taken regardless of circumstance, justification or longevity. I tried every ounce of apologia I could, and even sounded like the 16 year-old who doesn’t want the girl to break up with him. No dice; even if the cards were garbage, that was not my assumption to make. Had I asked, I would have been told they weren’t, and nothing would have happened; but because I proceeded to act cavalier during what was essentially a job interview with new management, there could be no good excuse for what I did.
So I am done for the year. It’s not fun having to eat that much crow and face the shame of having "thief" attached to what was my good name at The Nat. But it’s my own fault. I can reapply next year, but that will still be subject; I have to accept that; being bitter gets old quick, and who can I blame beyond myself?
Okay, commentary time: What Rob did was dumb. Sure, I probably would have thought about doing the same thing - when you find a stack of stuff amid construction debris, the obvious conclusion is that it’s going to be tossed. We’ve all worked at places where you come in one day and something has been thrown away, and you say "but I would have taken that home if I knew it was going to be thrown out! You guys are nuts!"
So Rob made a dumb call, and he was booted as a result.
But here’s the thing - for a $10 box of cards, the C’s just disposed of a guy who brings in THOUSANDS of dollars every year in beer sales, and THOUSANDS more dollars in ticket sales.
I’ve taken people to C’s games and watched them yawn through ten innings of shut-out ball, but stand and cheer Rob as he embarasses a non-tipper, or a Yankees fan, or a Tri-City Dust Devils fan (okay, one of those things don’t exist, but still…). I’ve watched hundreds of people sing along to the butthead song with him. And I’ve watched him spend half the year with an unruly mop of circa-1972 Elvis hair, just so he could raise a boatload of cash during the annual Hawker Haircut charity event.
Look, if you find a concession worker has been short-changing people, sure, cut ‘em. If you find a souvenir stand worker isn’t turning up for work on time, by all means, show them the door. If one of the greens crew is growing a crop of hydroponic marijuana in the umpire’s dressing room, bid them adieu.
But Rob McGowan IS the Vancouver Canadians. He’s been a fixture at the ballpark since before the two-storey fence was built. He’s been wearing that "I hate the" Mariners helmet since the days when Julio Franco was saying "Gee Mr DiMaggio, you sure made my first day in the big leagues a happy one!"
He was here when the Angels parked their Triple-A players in this town. He has stories that entertain entire sections, he emails the families of players to let them know how their kids are doing, and even when his body started packing it in and he was unable to carry the tray last year, he STILL came to the ballpark and did color commentary on the webcast every day.
He’s been to every NWL ballpark, both as a professional, and as a fan. He’s put his marriage through torrid times as he created new excuses to get out to The Nat when, really, he should have been at home explaining plot points of The Gilmore Girls to his missus. He’s driven the oldest Vancouver Canadians fan, 99-year-old Bernie, to and from the park for entire seasons, just so the old bugger could come and fall asleep during the 7th inning.
Rob McFuckingGowan is the heart and soul of the Vancouver Canadians and, mistake or not, error of judgement or not, stupid bastard or not, he deserves at least as much consideration as the team can muster in finding a way to keep him around.
Demotion from head-beerhawker? Fine. Suspension for a month of the season? He’d wear it in a heartbeat. You wanna double-check his cash float every night or make him wear a webcam on his cap so he can be watched like a hawk? Go ahead.
But holy crap, for a pack of baseball cards you’re going to let one of the major attractions of a day at Nat Bailey Stadium disappear into the sunset? Come on, Aileen (I’ve been dying to use that one, Dexy’s Midnight Runners fans), cut the guy a break.
And hey, Rob isn’t asking me to write this, just so people know. If anything, he’d prefer not to raise a fuss, because it’s kind of embarassing, but at the same time, the guy has hundreds of friends at the ballpark, and this blog is the best way of letting them know that, no, his kidney has not packed it in. He just isn’t there anymore.
I don’t want to be the guy who, as Will Ferrell put it, hangs out inthe school parking lot for three years after grad. I’ll reapply nextyear, and if the team will have me, I’d love to come back. But I have toaccept that I wouldn’t be in this position if I’d used my fucking headin the first place.
I feel worse about screwing over Delany and Lori. They were working hard on the haircut promo, but now they have no hawker to shear. I may have sentenced Lori to a year as Sinead O’Connor. Like she’ll forgive me after I turn her profile into that of a Ban roll-on.
I’m going to try and arrange something between the VSB and the Cancer Society. Like a good friend told me, nothing is stopping me from trying it on my own, even though I so wanted it to be at the Nat. At least something good can come from this.
I’m sure I’ll get to a couple of games this year. My birthday falls during July; the remaining old school hawkers have promised to teach the new ones a special song to sing in my honour. That will be especially bittersweet, as, while I didn’t invent the song, I’m known for performing it with gusto. And I’ll try to make it for August 3, because that’s Bernie’s (Isman) 100th birthday. He missed last season with a sore hip, but with a healthier arm than Mark Prior, he should be able to come out at least once.
Always remember that the beer hawkers love the blog, because it lets the parents of the players know who were are, and gives them someone to look for beyond their own kid when they come to the stadium. I’m sure the new guys and the old guys will get along famously. Hopefully, I’ll get to feel it once again next year.
See this guy to the left? That’s Bill The Beerman, a Seattle sports legend who was responsible not just for helping people enjoy their day at the stadium, but was also a large part of why people came back. He was so valuable to Seattle sporting franchises, in fact, that he was regularly paid to show up at everything from college football to minor league hockey, just because the owners of those teams knew he would increase the gate.
Rob McGowan is our Bill The Beerman, and has been for decades, and if that’s not worth being able to see past a silly mistake, then I’m a dutchman.
Please understand that I’m not demanding - I’m asking: isn’t there a point where we can go beyond the automatic trigger reaction? I know the corporate playbook says a person in a situation like this must go, but can’t we show ourselves to be more than just a ‘company’, and prove to the fans (of which Rob has, frankly, as many as the team) that the new owners, as professional and corporate and clean cut as they are, are not without heart?
Let me put it another way - until a month ago, I was working to start a single screen cinema in Vancouver - one that would serve beer and light snacks rather than just popcorn and soda. Part of my business plan involved convincing Rob McGowan to come be a beerhawker IN THE CINEMA on the weekends. For mine, that was what would have made the difference between it just being a movie house, and it being a place where people would come, irrespective of what movie was playing, because it was a great time. In the end I never asked him to make a decision on whether or not to take part, because asking would simply have put him in a position to have to say no.
I wasn’t going to get him away from The Nat, and that’s all there was to it.
Soul matters. Personality matters. Love of the game matters. And history matters. And Rob McGowan is all of those things within the friendly confines of Nat Bailey Stadium.
He’s not a thief. He’s not untrustworthy. He bleeds red and blue.
In fact, if the team brings Rob McGowan back in some capacity this season, I’ll pledge that Notes From The Nat will donate $200 to the Hawker Haircut charity drive.
So, Jake, what do you say? Do it for the kids.